The French Presidency

The French Pres­i­den­cy of the EU 2008 – and the spe­cif­ic per­son­al per­for­mance and engage­ment of the Pres­i­dent Nico­las Sarkozy dur­ing the semes­ter – has deserved quite con­tra­dic­to­ry eval­u­a­tions among the dif­fer­ent mem­ber states: very crit­i­cal in some coun­tries (because of some author­i­tar­i­an­ism and the lit­tle time devot­ed to con­sen­sus build­ing) and very pos­i­tive in oth­ers, such as Spain.[1] The Spaniards liked the idea of the Pres­i­dent Sarkozy to try to demon­strate EU’s abil­i­ty to active­ly face and man­age glob­al chal­lenges for get­ting a stronger Europe who knows how to be a leader in the world. Some of the French pri­or­i­ties fit­ted well with Span­ish main con­cerns in the EU; name­ly, the ener­gy, the envi­ron­ment and the cli­mate change, the adop­tion of the Pact on Immi­gra­tion and Asy­lum, the review of the CAP, the rein­force­ment of the Euro­pean Defence and Secu­ri­ty Pol­i­cy and the launch­ing of the Union for Mediter­ranean.

As regards cri­sis man­age­ment, the French Pres­i­den­cy showed its capac­i­ty to address the chal­lenges of the Irish ‘No’ to the Lis­bon Treaty, the war in Geor­gia in August and the finan­cial cri­sis in the autumn. Although the style and the method of the French Pres­i­dent were some­times crit­i­cised, as were the dif­fi­cul­ties in the Fran­co-Ger­man rela­tion­ship and the poor atten­tion to social issues, this Pres­i­den­cy has been gen­er­al­ly recog­nised to have suc­cess­ful and has helped to restore – at least for a while – the rela­tion­ship between France and the rest of Europe; Spain in par­tic­u­lar. As it has been men­tioned in the sec­tion regard­ing the ‚Finan­cial cri­sis and chal­lenges of glob­al gov­er­nance’, thanks to the French sup­port, Spain was invit­ed to the G20 finan­cial sum­mit which was held in Wash­ing­ton last Novem­ber 2008.

Nico­las Sarkozy’s method proved to be effi­cient although lit­tle progress was achieved in the lib­er­al­i­sa­tion of the ener­gy inter­nal mar­ket and ener­gy secu­ri­ty. The review of the Euro­pean Secu­ri­ty Strat­e­gy (ESS) was also con­sid­ered as very lim­it­ed and spe­cial­ly mod­est for a coun­try that places Secu­ri­ty and Defence at the top of its EU agen­da. In Agri­cul­ture, the prac­ti­cal results were not over­ly sig­nif­i­cant: a lim­it­ed reform and a CAP Health check was car­ried out.

On the oth­er hand, EU immi­gra­tion pol­i­cy did real­ly make a sig­nif­i­cant polit­i­cal step for­ward with the Pact on Immi­gra­tion and Asy­lum; a polit­i­cal doc­u­ment stat­ing an over­all com­mon EU pol­i­cy doc­trine on migra­tions. Anoth­er com­mon pri­or­i­ty for the French Pres­i­den­cy and Spain was the Union for the Mediter­ranean, in which Spain had the uncom­fort­able sit­u­a­tion of sup­port­ing the advan­tages of re-launch­ing Mediter­ranean coop­er­a­tion but, at the same time, pre­fer­ring not to jeop­ar­dise the tra­di­tion­al EU Mediter­ranean pol­i­cy with­in the so-called Barcelona Process in 1995. The Ger­man Chan­cel­lor Angela Merkel took the lead in resist­ing the French ini­tia­tive. In the end, Paris recog­nised that it was more sen­si­ble and more respon­si­ble to involve the entire EU in the Union for the Mediter­ranean, with head­quar­ters in Barcelona, and a ‘co-pres­i­den­cy’ was estab­lished, which was the only reminder of the orig­i­nal project.[2]

After the so active French Pres­i­den­cy – pro­mot­ing some ambi­tious ini­tia­tives, able to ensure the nor­mal func­tion­ing of the Pres­i­den­cy, lead­ing the EU’s exter­nal rep­re­sen­ta­tion in meet­ings with third coun­tries and with the pub­lic opin­ion much impressed by the Nico­las Sarkozy’s cri­sis man­age­ment capac­i­ty –, the expec­ta­tions in Spain for the Czech Pres­i­den­cy are not par­tic­u­lar­ly high. The gen­er­al cli­mate is that a coun­try which has not rat­i­fied the Lis­bon Treaty and plen­ty of Euro-scep­tic voic­es can dif­fi­cult­ly man­age an EU Pres­i­den­cy that is indeed sur­round­ed by uncertainty.[3]

 

 

 

[1] See Maxime Lefeb­vre, 2009, An Eval­u­a­tion of the French EU Pres­i­den­cy (Elcano Roy­al Insti­tute ARI, 43/2009), avail­able at: www.realinstitutoelcano.org/wps/portal/rielcano_eng/Content?WCM_GLOBAL_CONTEXT=/Elcano_in/Zonas_in/ARI43-2009 (last access: 30 March 2009).
[2] See Maxime Lefeb­vre, 2009, (ibi­dem).
[3] See Daniel Esparza-Ruiz, 2009, ¿Lis­boa o Moscú? Retos de la Pres­i­den­cia checa en la UE (Elcano Roy­al Insti­tute ARI, 28/2009), avail­able at: http://www.realinstitutoelcano.org/wps/portal/rielcano/contenido?WCM_GLOBAL_CONTEXT=/Elcano_es/Zonas_es/Europa/ARI28-2009 (last access: 30 March 2009).